Sunday, June 26, 2005

Working hard in learning torah

The story of the מרגלים is a troubling story. You have the leaders of the Jewish people, tzadikim, suddenly do a terrible sin, why?

One approach is as follows. The leaders made the following calculation. Things were good in the midbar. They had a spiritual life with no effort. Manna came down from heaven every morning. If they had a question they asked Moshe who asked Hashem. In short, spirituality was handed to them on a silver platter. On the other hand they realized that in Israel life would change radically. They would not live a life of nissim, manna would not fall from heaven. They would have to work hard to retain their spiritually. If they had a question in Torah they would have to figure out the answer.

Based on the above, the meraglim decided life was better in the midbar and therefore did what they did.

What was their sin? They didn't want to work hard at their spirituality. They wanted everything handed to them on a silver platter.

This message is especially relevant nowadays in the executive summary/fast food society of ours. No one has time to work hard on something, everyone wants everything to come easy. No one wants to sit and sweat over pshat in a gemara, they want it spoon fed to them. This is one of the reasons why there is such a proliferation of (kitzur)handbook sefarim, people are not willing to put in the effort to learn the sources. this is why the Artscroll gemaras have become so popular, they make learning gemara easy.

I would like to go a bit further with this. Learning torah is different then learning any other discipline. Other subjects, what is paramount is that you obtain the knowledge, how you get there is irrelevant. The bottom line is what do you know. In torah this is not true. In torah, how you get there is more important then what you know. The act of learning torah is the mitzva. If someone could magically impress on your brain all of torah, that would be nice, but you would get no mitzva for that. The Mitzva is to learn it yourself. Hashem wants us to be עמלים (work hard) in Torah. Nowadays, we have lost this. People would rather take it easy with an Artcsroll gemara then break their head to understand the sugya.

After 120 years a person will not be asked what they know, but, did you fulfill your potential. There may be a guy who knew all of Shas because he was a genius, but his potential was that he could have been another Vilna Gaon. In this world he was very respected guy he knew Shas, however his potential was so much greater. On the other hand there may be an average guy who fulfilled his potential but never even really knew shas. In this world he was basically ignored, he worked hard at learning but was not that successful. But, he fulfilled his potential. Who do you think will get the bigger reward in the next world.? This is what the gemara means when it says עולם הפוך. In torah learning effort not results is what ultimately counts.

Some people will misinterpret this to mean that I am saying a person can sit and learn all day and know nothing. Absolutely not. What I am saying is that a person is judged by his potential, every person needs to maxmize it. It is amazing to see what an average person can do if they really push themselves (more about this in upcoming posts), but the average person will not become the Godol Hador and in shamayim no one will ask him why he wasn't the godol hador.

One of the good things about my commute to work is that it gives me time to think. Many times, in the morning I learn a piece of gemara with my chavrusa and something bothers us. On the way to work for an hour I think about it, I think about the question, possible answers, etc. and many times after an hour or 2 I will either have an answer or at least a better understanding of why it is really a question. The only way to come up with a chiddush is to sit and think. Unfortunately most people never really think in learning. They run right away to look in some sefer for an answer.

The proliferation of sefarim is both a blessing and a curse. For many, it makes life too easy, they never have to think about what is a question and what is an answer, Artscroll (or some other sefer) spoon feeds it to them.

Don't get me wrong, Artscroll and other aids have their place. They have allowed many people who couldn't learn gemara without it learn. The problem is that they allow many other people who could learn gemara if they worked hard at it be lazy and not push themselves.

Every person has to evaluate their situation and balance where they are to understand how they should go about learning.

In the next few days I am going to post about more about derech halimud.


MNR said...


Great post, and one we need to take to heart more.

On an unrelated point (sorry to do this) have you people make an analogy from the story of the meraglim to modern day? I.e. the majority of the "gedolim" of the day were against going up to Israel while two dissenters were?

bluke said...

The situation at the time of the meraglim was a bit different then now. Hashem spoke to them through Moshe Rabbenu and there was no doubt what Hashem wanted, for them to go to Israel, nowadays with hester panim it is much more difficult to discern what Hashem really wants from us.

In essence, I believe this was RYBS claim in one of his lectures about Yosef (subsequently published), that the Mizrachi by participating in the building of the state created the conditions for Charedi Jewry to flourish and grow in Israel. Without the Mizrachi there would have been no renaissance of Torah. In other words, he felt that the Mizrachi had been correct before WWII in pushing aliya, the state etc.

MNR said...

I agree that things were different because of Hashem's involvement, but I think the general analogy is not bad. When I asked my (charedi) Rav why the charedi establishment didn't accept the state at the time he said, "beacause the Gedolim said not to." I said, "Some gedolim were in favor, i.e. Rav Kook, RYDS etc" he replied, "The majority of the gedolim were against it." Then I brought up the meraglim. Is that really the way we make decisions? We add up the gedolim and because it's 10-2 then the side with 10 wins? If that's the case what about the meraglim?

bluke said...

The meraglim were different because Moshe Rabbeinu was around and he had the status of a King and everyone had to listen to him. Today we don't have that.

Is there a better way of making decisions nowadays? It is a very difficult question which has no easy answer.

MNR said...

Even if Moshe rabbeinu had the din of a melech he asked them to spy out the land. Did he say "we must go in irrespective of your report."

Nobody said...

"Is that really the way we make decisions? We add up the gedolim and because it's 10-2 then the side with 10 wins?"

Achrei Rabbim leHatos. I don't mean to be that glib, but the point is taking a majority view isn't automatically treif in the presence of uncertainty.

"Did he say "we must go in irrespective of your report.""


MNR said...

"Achrei Rabbim LeHatos" - then we shouldn't have gone into Eretz Yisrael because it was 10-2.

J said...

Just wondering about the whole sefarim thing... are you opining that if you think of something yourself it's "better" than looking it up in a sefer? Just because you were straining your mind?

If that's the case shouldn't you be trying to minimize any possible help (i.e. no Rashi or any other Rishonim etc...)

Nobody said...

""Achrei Rabbim LeHatos" - then we shouldn't have gone into Eretz Yisrael because it was 10-2."

טעה בדבר משנה (contradicting Moshe Rabbeinu) has no standing. Not everyone gets a vote, and not about everything.

bluke said...


In truth, the best way to learn is to read the gemara without Rashi and try to understand pshat. Then go back and read the gemara with Rashi and see where Rashi differed from your pshat and try to understand why. The same goes for the other Rishonim.

You can't learn without the Rishonim, the gemara would be almost impossible to understand. What I am saying is that a person needs to try to understand the Rishonim hiomself before running to the acharonim, it is good to use your brain.

J said...

But not necessarily that its halachiclly "better" to do so?

bluke said...

Absolutely right. I am talking from a perspective of developing your abilities. If you want to develop your ability to think then the best thing to do is read the gemara try to understand it, then read Rashi and see how Rashi's pshat differs from what you thought and try to understand why. Try to understand how Rashi deals with the difficulties in the gemara.

There is nothing wrong with learning acharonim, it is a question of when and how. If you have a question on how to learn pshat in rashi and you thought about it and don't have an answer there is nothing wrong with looking in the acharonim. What I was objecting to is without thinking automatically going to the acharonim to see what they say when you haven't thought about the question at all, or you don't even have a question.

After you have learned a sugya and think that you understand Rashi and the other basic Rishonim (Tosafos, Ran, Rif, Rosh, Rashba, Ritva if they comment on the sugya) assuming that you are learning b'iyun, it may be beneficial to see what the acharonim say, maybe they will give you a different perspective.

In short, my gripe is that today very few people are willing to sit and think and try to work things out they right away run to the acharonim.

J said...

However, I don't understand how your point of view precludes a reading of achronim first. If they have an answer to your question, isn't it just a waste of time to think about it yourself? If they don't than what do you lose by looking at them first?

Whadyaa think?

Shmuel said...

That whole pshat on the miraglim leaves me cold, anyway. I mean, it's a cute little drush, perhaps, but one completely ungrounded in any reality. The men who went to see the land (and funny how they are never called miraglim in the text; they were instructed "lasur" the land and the Torah says they did so. But see the Malbim on the whole parsha)never say, "You know, it's nice right here, what with the three squares and a little Torah study now and then." Nope. They come back with a terrifying report that the land "eats up its inhabitants" and is populated by giants who made them feel like insects.
My point is, the drush is cute, but it is mostly political musar aimed at the charedim of the past century.